“Maybe I won’t.”
“It’s not up to you.”
“It’s not,” he agreed. “It’s up to you. And you’re gonna go.” Before she could argue further, he raised his hand and started listing things on his fingers one by one. “It’s your home. You haven’t been back in ages. It needs your help. You can work with your dad. You can work with the rebels. You can fix it. You’re gonna go.”
Leta snorted indignantly. “Last I was there, the rebellion hated me.”
“That was before you betrayed Carthis and freed them all,” he pointed out with a dull stare. “You’re gonna go. It’s Vescent we’re talking about. Why wouldn’t you?”
The stress and indecision finally got to her. Frustrated, Leta slammed her palm on the table and stood up so fast that the chair she sat in was tossed backwards against the wall. “You know why I wouldn’t,” she snapped. “You know.”
His confidence faltered a little towards apology. “Leta–”
“You know or are we just pretending that didn’t happen?” she demanded. “Just back to normal, dancing around the fucking obvious because gods forbid we’re honest about something. Is that it? Do you want me to leave?”
“What–no!” He too stood up now and reached out to seize her hands. “No, of course I don’t. I want you to stay, of course I want you to stay, but I also want you to do what you need to do. And for fuck’s sake, I know you, you can’t just sit here while Vescent needs your help. You can’t. Not for me, not for anybody. You have to go back and to hell if I’m going to try to stop you.”
“Then what about us?” she wanted to know, taking her hands from his and crossing her arms over her chest. “I go to Vescent, you stay on Satieri, what happens to us?”
His delayed answer was hardly reassuring. Finally, he grimaced and muttered, “Well…we have, what, twelve hours?”
“Okay, okay, I don’t know,” he admitted, throwing his hands up. “I don’t know what happens to us, but — we’ll figure it out.”
“Figure it out?” she repeated incredulously. “That’s all you’ve got? Figure it out? Fall’s End and Paradiex are on completely opposite time maps. You can barely keep in contact with your own fleet, let alone friends or anything else. Have you ever maintained a relationship without the physical part of it? Can you handle that? Do you have any idea how hard long distance it? I–”
“Leta,” he interrupted suddenly, reaching out to drop his hands on her shoulders.
“No, Fiearius, this isn’t just some simple thing you can write off as–”
“Leta,” he said again, gripping her tighter. She frowned at him, but her anger was hard to maintain as he gently massaged his thumbs against her collarbone, just as he fucking knew she liked it.
“Look.” He spoke plainly and calmly. “You’re going to Vescent tomorrow. Come on, we knew this was gonna happen at some point, didn’t we? Vescent was always your goal just as Satieri was mine. And you’ve gotta see it through. You have to. You know that, I know that. So you’re going. And sure, that’ll put a strain on what we’ve got and that sucks because fuck, we finally got somewhere and, yeah. That really sucks. But–” He shook his head. “You have to go. So..we’ll just have to figure it out.”
Leta looked down at her feet as she let him rub away the anxiety in her shoulders. “And what if we can’t…?”
“Then we can’t,” he admitted. “Maybe it won’t work. Maybe I’ll fuck it up again. Maybe you’ll fuck it up, that’d be a nice twist, huh?” He squeezed her shoulder and she couldn’t stop herself from chuckling. “But I have a feeling,” he went on, sliding one hand under her chin to lift her face to his. “Even if we do go out in flames or out in a pathetic puff of smoke…it won’t matter in the long run. We’ll find our way back. We always do…”
Leta wasn’t entirely appeased. She didn’t feel nearly as sure of this plan as Fiearius sounded. And she wasn’t convinced even he was. He was just saying words, providing comfort because it was what he felt he should do, keeping up the confident facade that she saw cracking at the edges, he didn’t mean it.
But she didn’t argue either when he tilted her chin upwards and drew her lips against his, soft and warm and inviting. For just that moment, her worries left her. She felt he was right. They had all the time they could ever want. Nothing could change that. No span of space could truly tear them apart. For that moment, she believed. They could figure it out.
When he drew back, he was smirking. “So. Twelve hours?”
Leta’s eyes were still shut, but she opened one and pursed her lips. “We could probably push it to thirteen.”
A grin spread over his face. “That’s what I like to hear.” But instead of deepening the kiss, instead of pulling her towards the cot and sliding his hands under her shirt and down her back as she’d expected, he drew away and started rustling through a sack of his meager belongings.
“What are you doing?”
He turned back to her, brandishing a rather alarmingly large pair of wire cutters. His smile was impish when he said, “Did I tell you I know how to get into the closed districts of the city? This may be our last chance. Want a tour?”
The tour went on through the night and into the early morning. True to his word, Fiearius had no trouble traversing even Paradiex’s strictly locked down regions, though it had more to do with reluctant guards than any feat of his own.
“Of course they’re not going to stop us,” he had boasted proudly as he helped her climb over a hastily erected fence blocking off the city’s silent Entertainment District while the handful of volunteer guards watched from nearby. “We saved the fuckin’ planet, a blind eye is the least they owe us.”
Or perhaps they figured it was their right to put themselves in danger if they so chose, Leta thought but didn’t bother correcting him. Nonetheless, nobody made even the remotest attempt to get in their way as they spent the night exploring deserted casinos, dancing in silent clubs, ‘borrowing’ liquor from empty bars and reliving Fiearius’ past through one outlandish story after the next. It was only after they’d watched the Satieran sun rise over the crippled skyline from atop a huge sign high above the street, that, exhausted and still a little tipsy, they hobbled back to the camp and spent some time exploring each other instead.
Leta was asleep when there was a loud knock on Fiearius’ door and she barely stirred to consciousness when he rolled out of bed and engaged in a hushed shouting match with whoever had disturbed him. The word Carthis came up twice, then she’d felt a warm kiss press against her lips followed by silence. She’d woken up an hour later to find herself alone.
So thirteen hours with Fiearius hadn’t quite been right, but she didn’t mind. It gave her the time to bid a tearful goodbye to Cyrus and Addy, to say farewell to Corra who, looking far more positive than she’d seen her in — gods, years — assured her it was more like a ‘seeya later’, to check in with Daelen and her patients and finally to return to her metal tube to pack what little possessions had made it this far.
It didn’t take long. One bag was able to hold everything. She lingered for a moment on an empty liquor bottle from Tarin, a small grotesque clay sculpture of — was it a bear? A deer? — and an ornate fitted mask she’d nearly forgotten she had, but soon enough she swung the bag onto her back and headed out of the shelter for the last time.
Leta had to consciously fight off the heaviness in her chest as she sought out Fiearius to say goodbye. It wasn’t goodbye, she kept telling herself and continuously failed to believe it. It wasn’t goodbye, it wasn’t an end, just a pause. Another pause in their long history of pauses…What would one more be, in the grand scheme of things, right? Just a little pause…
“Am I supposed to feel bad about that?”
As always, Fiearius was easy to locate.
“I don’t give a shit what happens to that guy,” he was telling La’aren and another member of the new Council whose name Leta constantly forgot. The three of them were huddled around the table of Varris’ shelter and makeshift meeting room and none of them appeared to notice when Leta shuffled into the back.
“So you don’t care if we do it then?” Varris confirmed, a glint of hope lighting her eyes.
“No,” Fiearius growled, “I don’t care what happens to him, but I don’t want him here.”
The other member of the Council put his head in his hand. “Soliveré, Gates is a popular figure in Carthis. No one wants to see him executed, but Carthian law is strict, he’s a traitor, there’s nothing they can do. But! If we offer him asylum, problem solved.”
“It could be an important step towards peace,” Varris went on. “Peace we desperately need. The gods know we can’t take another war right now.” She threw her hand out towards the city, decimated by the last one. When Fiearius didn’t seem to be convinced, she added, “Need I remind you it’s your fault he’s a traitor?”
“It’s his fault,” Fiearius shot back without skipping a beat. “For being shit.”
“Compelling argument…” the other Councillor muttered.
Though there was certainly a part of Leta that wanted to butt into this conversation, to say her own piece, for once she was too preoccupied. Her opinion was buried beneath the bundle of nerves that knew what she had to do and what she didn’t want to do. But she just had to get it over and done with.
“Fiear–” she spoke up, cutting him off from whatever snippy comment was already waiting on his tongue. When he glanced back at her, she took a deep breath and got out with it. “I’m leaving now.”
He stared at her for a moment as though he didn’t even understand what she was talking about. And then he said, “Okay,” and turned back to the table to continue ranting at Varris.
Leta waited a beat for surely that hadn’t just happened. He was just getting the last word out and then he’d turn back to her and he’d escort her to her father’s ship and they’d say goodbye and she wouldn’t get upset because it wasn’t really goodbye, it was just a pause, a little pause, but —
But Fiearius didn’t turn back to her. He didn’t stop ranting. The exchange around the table continued as though Leta hadn’t ever interrupted it at all. She didn’t even hear what they said, too absorbed by what was going on. Or wasn’t going on, rather.
After a solid minute of waiting, it hit her. It made sense, didn’t it? Fiearius was never very good with these kinds of things, was he? They’d had a wonderful night together, he’d kissed her when he left this morning, what more could she ask for, really? She may have been willing to brave the hard farewell, but he clearly wasn’t and it was probably selfish of her to force him, wasn’t it?
“Alright, see ya around,” she muttered mainly to herself as she looked away from the table and headed out of the shelter, trying not to let it get to her. But it did. It really got to her.
She wasn’t being selfish to want to get a proper goodbye from the man who supposedly loved her. He was being selfish by not giving it. What, it hurt him too much to accept it? As if it didn’t hurt her as well? He was the one who told her to go! He was the one who’d been so sure yesterday that it was fine, that distance couldn’t end them, that this was nothing. And now he wouldn’t even look her in the eye before she left?
Well, fuck him.
In a flash, Leta turned from sad to angry as she stalked through the camp towards the docks. Fuck him. She was so tired of this stupid dance. How long had they been doing this? One moment hot, the next colder than ice, what was even the point anymore? Hell, maybe this was his plan. Make her so furious that she wouldn’t even miss him when she was gone. So far, it was working.
“There you are,” Tritius greeted her as she approached his ship, a slim shiny black thing with the librera still emblazened upon its bow. “We were supposed to head out two hours ago. Are you ready yet?”
“Yeah, let’s go,” she snapped. Though she’d dreaded it this morning, now, in her frustration, she couldn’t wait to get off this damned planet and as far away from here as possible.
“Is that all you have?” her dad was asking her, taking the bag from her shoulder. “Do you need–”
“This is it, let’s go,” she said again, impatient. “Let’s just get home. I don’t want to–”
Leta spun back to glare at the figure racing across the docks towards her. Oh, now he wanted her attention? Really?
“What?” she yelled back as he closed the gap between them, seemingly running as fast as his legs could carry him. Only feet in front of her, he slowed to a stop, doubling over, supporting his hands on his knees and heaving in shallow breaths.
Between the gasps, he managed, “Did you–really think–you could leave–without–saying goodbye?” He peered up at her from beneath a sweaty brow and windswept messy red hair.
Leta gaped at him. What the hell was wrong with this man? “I did say goodbye,” she snapped, indignantly, crossing her arms over her chest. “I came to say goodbye and you just fucking ignored me so to hell with you coming here and asking that! I’ve said my goodbye, so you can just–”
Before she could tell him just what he could do, Fiearius rolled his eyes, stood up straight, seized the sides of her face and pulled her lips against his. Her protests lasted just a moment, her palm slapping his chest in frustration, and then they were blown away on the wind as she sunk into the embrace and gave in.
The kiss was a shock to her system, a lightning bolt down her spine. Then it settled into something that was slow, warm, relaxed. Fiearius took his time roaming his lips against hers, then slowly, achingly, easing away. She didn’t open her eyes until she heard him mutter, “That wasn’t a goodbye.”
She pressed her hand against him again in a last ditch showing of defiance and then leaned her forehead against his chest. “You’re an ass,” she sighed.
She felt the warmth of his breath as he laughed against her hair.
“You’re in love with an ass. Which is worse?”
She lifted her head to tell him to ‘shh’ when she accidentally locked eyes with someone whose very face, stern and skeptical and full of judgment, served as an instant mood killer. Without even thinking about it, she dropped her hands to her sides, her face flushing red.
Fiearius regarded her curiously and then followed her line of sight. “Oh,” was his only comment when he realized the issue. Then he smiled cheerfully. “Good to see you again, Mr. Adler.”
“Soliveré,” was Tritius’ only response. “Leta. We’re already behind schedule.”
“Right,” she mumbled and, fighting her instincts to show no emotion in front of her father, took Fiearius’ hand. “Please take care of yourself, okay? Don’t do anything stupid.”
Fiearius barked a single laugh. “Why would I–”
“And watch over Cy too, don’t let him turn back into the cocky jerk he used to be, his words, not mine.”
“Okay, but –”
“And if you get injured or if something crops up, please go to a doctor, I know you hate them, but please.”
This time, she lifted herself up and placed a quick kiss upon his mouth. “I’ll miss you,” she whispered, clamping her eyes shut.
She felt his fingers gently tuck a stray hair behind her ear. “I’ll miss you too.”
Taking a deep breath, she turned around towards the ship, not opening her eyes until she was sure he was safely out of sight. If she saw him again now, she wasn’t sure she’d be able to walk up that ramp with her father. Her feet would refuse to carry her. It was only when she reached the top that she dared to look back at the man still standing on the docks below and it took all of her determination not to run back to his arms.
“Are you sure you can’t come with me?” she asked one last time, already knowing that he would shake his head.
“But we’ll see each other again soon, right?”
Fiearius smiled, but it was a sad smile. It gave her no comfort, not even when he called, “I love you, Leta.”
“I love you too,” she whispered, feeling hopelessness suddenly flood around her in all directions as her father lifted the ramp and she watched through watery eyes as Fiearius Soliveré disappeared from view.